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North Carolina Sheriff Criticized For Unleashing K-9 Dogs On Black People Faces Re-Election

Advocates say that Sheriff Donnie Harrison is unfit for a fifth term because of such abusive practices as well as his office's cooperation with ICE.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison
Photo illustration by Anagraph/Photo by Wake County Sheriff/Twitter

North Carolina Sheriff Criticized For Unleashing K-9 Dogs On Black People Faces Re-Election

Advocates say that Sheriff Donnie Harrison is unfit for a fifth term because of such abusive practices as well as his office's cooperation with ICE.

The Appeal is spotlighting sheriffs across the country who are seeking re-election on Nov. 6. The rest of the series is available here.

Sade Tomlinson was running scared in the woods. A K-9 dog was pursuing the Black then-17-year-old, who, along with friends, had taken off after their car crashed. But the dog’s handler, a sheriff’s deputy, said that he got caught in a mess of briars and logs, and the dog broke free, continuing its pursuit. Then the animal attacked.

“The dog ripped off my pants, so I was out there with no pants on,” Tomlinson told a local TV station. “It started attacking me, biting on my legs,” she said. The dog continued biting Tomlinson to the point where she could no longer feel her legs. “I just stopped fighting because there wasn’t anything else I could do.”

The attack on Tomlinson happened in August 2016, but it wasn’t the first of its kind that year in Wake County, North Carolina. In April, a deputy unleashed a K-9 dog on Kyron Dwain Hinton, a Black man with mental health issues. Hinton had been apprehended by police after he was found standing in the middle of a busy road. Though Hinton informed officers he was “having a crisis,” two state troopers, a sheriff’s deputy, and the police dog converged on Hinton when he failed to follow orders to get on the ground.

On dashcam audio, released to the public, Hinton can be heard crying out “Yahweh help” and “God is good” as the dog mauls him. After the attack, during which Hinton said he suffered 21 bites, a broken nose and a fractured eye socket, he was sent to a hospital and then to the county jail, charged with disorderly conduct, resisting a public officer, and assault on a law enforcement animal.

Sheriff Donnie Harrison, who has served four terms and is up for re-election on Nov. 6, was defiant after the incident. When prosecutors dropped the charges against Hinton, Harrison questioned the move, and he accused activists of trying to “exploit” the case when they raised concerns over the dashcam footage. And of Tomlinson’s case, Harrison said, “We never want to hurt anybody, but we have a job to do.”

Under Harrison’s leadership, Black residents have consistently born the brunt of aggressive policing. Though Black people are just over a fifth of the population, they account for 55 percent of use of force incidents since 2002, according Open Data Policing.

Unleashing police dogs on Black residents harks back to deeply violent days in the American South, says Rolanda Byrd, executive director of Raleigh PACT, an anti-police-brutality group. But under Harrison, she says, it is accepted as “a normal circumstance on how they [sheriff’s deputies] choose to pursue people.”

Byrd also criticizes Harrison for his opposition to a civilian oversight board, which the sheriff has suggested is unnecessary. “We try not to hide anything,” he said at a public forum hosted this month by PACT and three other community organizations. “Those of you that have been by my office know that you’re always welcome to talk to me.” But Byrd argues the board would help correct racial disparities in policing. “If you know that these things are going on, and you don’t feel there’s a need for change, there’s something wrong with this system,” she said. “The community needs this board.”

Gerald Baker, who’s challenging Harrison for sheriff, shares some of Byrd’s accountability concerns and supports a civilian review board with subpoena powers. “There’s so many issues that are going on in the sheriff’s office that you don’t know about,” he said at the forum. “And issues, when they come to play, are not being dealt with properly depending on who you are.”

Though Baker is a department veteran, he has publicly called for reforms at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, including ending an agreement with ICE in its jails. Under Harrison’s leadership, Wake County has been one of the largest jail systems nationwide to maintain a 287(g) agreement with ICE, which allows police to screen jailed immigrants for documentation and hold any undocumented arrestees for ICE agents. Baker has spoken out against the agreement on social media and has said its “impact has been breaking up families.”

Neither Baker nor Harrison responded to The Appeal’s request for comment.

If recent electoral trends in the county are any indication, Baker could have a shot at winning the race. Wake County leaned Republican when Harrison took office in 2002, but it swung heavily Democratic in the 2016 election. And the county is big, encompassing Raleigh and over one million residents, many of whom are not white.

The race has also attracted the attention of advocacy groups. The ACLU is spending $100,000 to air an ad about both candidates that highlights Harrison’s collaboration with ICE. Another ACLU ad highlights the Hinton case, juxtaposing images of a civil rights era police dog attack with video of the K-9 dog unleashed on Hinton. Baker, on the other hand, has won an endorsement from the state’s labor confederation, the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

And Byrd, the activist, says that locals are paying close attention to the race, particularly in the Black community. “I’ve seen a lot about it on Facebook,” she said. “A lot of people are talking about it and pushing for Baker in the Black community.”

The high costs of low pay for public defenders

The high costs of low pay for public defenders

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: The high costs of low pay for public defenders

  • A Trump favorite for his anti-immigration stance, Maryland sheriff now faces re-election

  • In Allegheny County, people arrested with cell phones can be charged with ‘possessing instruments of crime’

  • Community supervision is the largest part of the correctional system

  • NYC voter guide ignores executive order, says people with felony convictions can’t vote

  • Prosecutors call for safe consumption sites, not incarceration

In the Spotlight

The high costs of low pay for public defenders

Of course, no one becomes a public defender for the money. But unless you come from family wealth you still need a salary that, at a minimum, covers the cost of housing; payments on law school and other student debt; and childcare and/or support for parents or other family members who may count on you. You should also be paid enough that you can afford therapy and other forms of support while doing work that entails compassion fatigue and secondary trauma. And you should be able to, one day, put something aside in savings.

It is a given that pay for social justice lawyers is a slim fraction of the pay that lawyers in the private sector will earn. But what was illuminated at a New York City Council hearing last week was how large the gap is even between public defenders and prosecutors, whose salaries are city-funded, and lawyers who are directly employed by the city. What was made clear was that the underpayment of people who work in public defender offices, including those who are not attorneys, is a choice by the city and one that has dire consequences for the diversity and quality of those who become public defenders and the longevity of public defense careers.

The City Council Committee on Justice system, chaired by Rory Lancman who is running for Queens district attorney, held a hearing (the full video of which is online) on pay parity for public defenders and prosecutors with city government lawyers. Two charts prepared before the hearing show first, the pay disparities even between public defenders and prosecutors (who were also making the argument for their pay parity with city lawyers) and second, how pay disparities widen over the course of careers, leading to roughly $20,000 pay disparities (or 20 percent).

[Source: City Limits]

Representatives from all the major public defense providers testified. They explained why pay parity is so urgently needed:

Public defender salaries exclude lawyers who are from the communities most affected by the criminal legal system: Shannon Cumberbatch, director of hiring, diversity and community engagement at the Bronx Defenders, described how low salaries put public defender careers out of reach for people who do not come from generational wealth and whose backgrounds and life experiences are most likely to reflect those of the clients served by public defense offices.“Pay disparity in public defense disproportionately affects aspiring defenders from the communities that we serve,” Cumberbatch said. “It affects those from immigrant backgrounds, from racially and socioeconomically marginalized backgrounds. Individuals from these backgrounds are overrepresented in the court system and underrepresented in the court system as defenders. This is not because of lack of interest.” [Harry DiPrinzio / City Limits]

And the same concerns appear repeatedly: “Every aspect of my role from mentoring and fostering interest in public defense careers in students early on to extending offers … to saying goodbye to my colleagues who no longer found this career to be sustainable for them … I am hearing the same question over and over: While I am incredibly committed to supporting my clients and their community how am I supposed to support myself while on this salary?” Cumberbatch said. [City Council hearing, testimony of Shannon Cumberbatch]

The situation is as bad, if not worse, for non-attorney staff at public defender offices. Tina Luongo, chief defender of the Legal Aid Society said: “If you think the problems are tough for public defenders who are attorneys so is it for social workers, paralegals … the rate of turnover is incredible … I can’t find people to fill those positions because we can’t pay enough.”  [City Council hearing, testimony of Tina Luongo]

Meeting family obligations can be inconsistent with remaining a public defender: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) conducted interviews and focus groups with attorneys on staff. These revealed that, “‘[a] common topic of concern” was being able to afford having children. All of the defenders interviewed on the subject said they had wondered whether “being a public defender is incompatible with the goals” of financial stability and starting a family and all “expressed a profound sadness at having to confront this question.” One lawyer had recently decided to leave BDS and when interviewed said: “I have been a public defender for eight years and it is more than just a job—being a public defender is my identity. … I had to choose between doing this work and starting a family. I chose starting a family.” [Testimony of Danielle Regis] One woman testified that after eight years as a public defender, in order to make ends meet with two children and a mortgage she needs to have roommates. She called it “a disgrace.” [RJ Vogt / Law 360]

Luongo testified that the city is aware of the costs of living in New York City and the salaries needed—and its awareness is reflected in the salaries it pays its attorneys. “At the 10-year mark corporation counsel pays their lawyers $108,000 a year. That is $18,000 a year more than I am able to pay an attorney at the same level.” Luongo went on to say: “Our inability to pay has everything to do with how we are funded.” She said that defenders have said this “not once, not twice, but a hundred times “ to the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice MOCJ. [City Council hearing, testimony of Tina Luongo]

Council member Lancman discussed the disparities between public defender or prosecutor salaries and those paid to city Law Department employees and how it “comes as no surprise that city agencies have better retention rates than our district attorney offices and indigent service providers.” [RJ Vogt / Law 360]

There are easy answers: Lancman has proposed a task force that would study pay parity, an idea many defenders dismissed. Instead they called for using the city Law Department’s pay scale and called on the City Council to create a loan forgiveness program for public interest advocates. After the hearing, Lancman told Law 360 that the task force could be considered down the road if necessary but “all of our attention and focus really needs to be on getting the money out of the administration in the next six months or so.”

Ultimately, the failure to adequately fund public defense is, as one defender made clear, a reflection of the value the city places on the right to a lawyer. Akin Akinjiola said: “Why do you think our work as attorneys deserves less? I’ve been racking my brain to figure out how you would justify the disparity, and the only conclusion I can come to is that you don’t value our clients and their constitutional rights to a defense.”  [RJ Vogt / Law 360]

Stories From The Appeal

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins [Photo illustration by Anagraph/Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

A Trump Favorite for His Anti-Immigration Stance, Maryland Sheriff Now Faces Re-Election. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins seeks a fourth term as critics blast him for a record that includes poor jail conditions, in-custody suicides, and the deaths of two young people at the hands of his deputies. [Raven Rakia]

In Allegheny County, People Arrested With Cell Phones Can Be Charged With ‘Possessing Instruments of Crime.’ Advocates say these charges endanger sex workers and urge the police to stop using them. [Melissa Gira Grant]

Stories From Around the Country

Community supervision is the largest part of the correctional system: In 2016, there were twice as many people under community supervision as there were in local, state, and federal correctional facilities combined. From 1980 to 2016, the number of people on probation or parole in the U.S. increased 239 percent (peaking in 2007), leaving 1 in 55 adults (2 percent of the entire population) under community supervision. In Georgia, the rate is 1 in 18 while in New Hampshire it is 1 in 186, reflecting huge differences between states. These are the findings of a new analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts. Nearly 350,000 people under supervision are sent each year to jail or prison for, often technical, parole or probation violations. Crime rates and the number of people under community supervision dropped in 37 states between 2007 and 2016, but more needs to be done to “prioritize supervision and treatment resources for higher-risk individuals while removing lower-risk people from supervision caseloads.” [Jake Horowitz / Pew Charitable Trusts]

NYC voter guide ignores executive order, says people with felony convictions can’t vote: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in April 2018 that created a mechanism for restoring voting rights to people on parole through the granting of conditional pardons. Yet the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s 2018 Voter Guide wrongly states that people convicted of a felony can vote only after completing parole. After people on Twitter called out the error, the board responded, acknowledging its mistake. But advocates believe the damage has been done and criticized the city for not taking re-enfranchisement of people on parole seriously. The board has still not updated its website (since 2016) regarding voting rules for people who have been convicted of crimes. [Kadia Goba / Bklyner]

Prosecutors call for safe consumption sites, not incarceration: Roughly 200 people in the U.S. die each day from a drug overdose. Advocating harm reduction, Miriam Krinsky of Fair and Just Prosecution and Dan Satterberg, chief prosecuting attorney in Seattle, argue for prosecutors to pursue treatment rather than charges for drug users, police to change enforcement approaches, and the development of safe consumption sites, which have been proven to save lives as well as money at more than 100 sites in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. They describe a visit that a delegation of U.S. prosecutors made to Vancouver in October and how “overdose prevention sites offered a glimmer of hope.” While a number of prosecutors around the country have started changing their practices and have supported overdose prevention sites, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has argued that such sites violate federal law and that the Department of Justice would “meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action”—a stance reminiscent of the arguments once made against needle exchange programs. [Miriam Krinsky and Dan Satterberg / USA Today] See also In Vermont, a prosecutor up for re-election is calling for the establishment of safe consumption sites. [Molly Walsh / Seven Days]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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Moving Teens Off Rikers Island Was a Good First Step. Now Comes the Hard Part.

The rocky implementation of New York’s Raise the Age law shows that young people in detention need love, not force.

A Covenant of Peace circle for youth in custody in Washington, D.C., run through the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
Credit: DYRS

Moving Teens Off Rikers Island Was a Good First Step. Now Comes the Hard Part.

The rocky implementation of New York’s Raise the Age law shows that young people in detention need love, not force.

At midnight on Oct. 1, 2018, New York’s Raise the Age law went into effect, ending the state’s practice of automatically charging young people as adults at age 16. It also required New York City to move all 16- and 17-year-olds out of the infamously brutal Rikers Island jail complex and into the Horizon juvenile detention center in the Bronx.

Mayor Bill de Blasio heralded the move as a significant victory. “Beginning today,” he said, “no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island. Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults.”

Yet from the start, that mission was subverted. When fights broke out the very first week among detainees, injuring correction officers, their union was adamant that they could only restore order by using the same level of force they were authorized to use at Rikers. Surveillance video of brawling adolescents was released to the media, and correction officers told reporters they feared for their lives. On Oct. 10, the state granted a waiver allowing guards to use OC pepper spray on youth. (That plan has since been delayed while city and state officials negotiate its use, which is prohibited in juvenile facilities.)

Raise the Age was intended to shield children from the horrors of the adult criminal justice system. Yet, New York’s implementation of the plan seems to have merely transported the culture of violence from Rikers Island to Horizon.

There are reasons for that. The law mandated that young people be removed from Rikers, but authorized the same agency—the city’s Department of Correction—to help run the adolescent detention centers where they were moved, alongside program staff from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). And because ACS could not hire enough “youth development specialists” by the Oct. 1 deadline, correction officers—whose horrific abuse of teenagers brought a federal lawsuit and consent decree to Rikers—are still guarding them in juvenile detention.

These correction officers and their union have painted the teens as dangerous, violent, and predatory criminals who can only be controlled by force. But the city itself seems to have bought into the logic that the adolescents from Rikers would bring with them a culture of violence too intense for ACS alone to handle.

To prepare for their arrival, the city relocated youth charged as juvenile delinquents to its Crossroads facility in Brooklyn, fearing the adolescents from Rikers would victimize them. It renovated Horizon to make it even more secure: reinforced cells, a larger control room, an arsenal of riot control gear, and plexiglass barriers in the cafeteria to keep youth from having contact with kitchen staff. New York City achieved getting the youth off Rikers, but in the process it has “Rikerized” Horizon.

Horizon Juvenile Center
Credit: Google Maps

These changes reflect a lack of faith in New York’s young people and the city’s ability to serve them. Teens are remarkably adept at living up to exactly what we expect of them. If we create an environment that anticipates violence, they will behave as expected. But research shows that if we treat them with love and respect, then young people—even the most traumatized, difficult, and challenging among them—will respond in kind.

I know that from my own experience running a mentoring program for court-involved youth in the South Bronx. But I’ve also seen a different approach to the same challenge playing out in the nation’s capital.

On the same day that New York’s Raise the Age law went into effect, the District of Columbia hit a deadline for removing youth charged as adults from the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility. Prior to the transfer, they had been subject to the same conditions as the youth on Rikers. Correction officers were authorized to use brute force, OC pepper spray, mechanical restraints, and 23-hour lockdown as tools of control.

At the New Beginnings facility run by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), they were met by youth development specialists instead of corrections officers. These adolescents look no different than the youth coming from Rikers. They are also 16- and 17-year-olds and have been charged with serious and violent felony offenses. But since they arrived at New Beginnings, there have been no outbreaks of violence, no physical restraints, and no need for pepper spray. They sleep in their own housing unit, but are otherwise fully integrated with their peers during school, meals, and recreational time. I asked one of the staff members if the youth they call “Title 16” (after the statute that lets them be charged as adults) were different from their delinquency cases. “Nah,” he said, “they’re all just kids.”

That vision comes from the top. DYRS director Clinton Lacey encourages his staff to minimize the harm of detention by treating youth in custody as they would their own children. Every day he asks them to consider the question: “What does love look like in the juvenile justice system?”

DYRS also brings in trusted community members to work alongside staff members. These “Credible Messengers,” many of whom are formerly incarcerated, are in the facilities around the clock to counsel youth, resolve conflicts, and prepare them for re-entry. Every few months, dozens of Credible Messengers join youth and staff for a weekend retreat called the Covenant of Peace. They sit together in peacemaking circles, building a culture of restorative and transformative justice.

Community Connections for Youth, the organization I founded to keep youth out of the justice system, hopes to do the same at Horizon. In the weeks ahead, we will be going into the detention center to meet with youth, facilitate family engagement, and promote peace, healing and understanding among young people, ACS staff, and even correction officers. I believe a transformation of the culture there is possible. But for it to happen, we must reject fear, embrace love, and truly treat children as children.

Rev. Rubén Austria is the founder and executive director of Community Connections for Youth.

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